There’s a growing number of former government foresters and biologists who have become critics of the province’s policy decisions.
The former employees of the Department of Natural Resources have been increasingly vocal on issues ranging from wildlife enforcement to pesticide spraying to industrial forestry.
The recently unveiled forestry plan and the Alward government’s 25-year wood-supply agreement with J.D. Irving Ltd. has prompted some of the most detailed criticism.
“It seemed like the time to do it now,” says forester Vince Zelazny, who retired from DNR in 2007 and recently began blogging about his views on forestry.
Zelazny has been working on his doctorate at the University of New Brunswick.
The forestry plan, which will increase harvesting in public forests by more than 20 per cent and reduce conservation areas, is “a clear break from past practice” at DNR, Zelazny says.
“Although the minister says he has the backing of his staff, there seems to be a difference of opinion there. I don't know where he's getting his advice from, and he hasn't really said.”
In a recent blog post, Zelazny asked, “Is this our new reality? Better pinch yourself, and then pinch your MLA and ask them if this is just a strange, shared dream — or a nightmare!”
Dan Murphy, a former director of forest management at DNR, wrote a newspaper opinion piece critiquing the forestry plan.
“I am not against the forest industry having additional timber,” Murphy wrote, “but I am against it when it compromises both the sustainability of forest habitat and timber yield.”
Earlier this year, Rod Cumberland, a former deer biologist, said the planned herbicide spraying by the provincial government was a threat to wildlife.
And Gerry Redmond, another retired biologist, has questioned what he considers the lax enforcement of regulations on deer farms and exotic species.
“Foresters have their own values,” Zelazny says.
“We really value nature and wildlife, and all those things. But they're just part of a political decision-making process. And so we present it, and if we feel really strongly about it, we move on and, you know, promote our values by other means.”
The Alward government has disputed that government decisions have gone against the advice of department staff with scientific expertise.
During a CBC panel discussion in March, cabinet minister Craig Leonard said the DNR staff who briefed him on the forestry plan believe it is “well within the range of outcomes that we need to focus on.”
He called DNR “the driver of these things."
But Tom Beckley, a UNB forestry professor, says it’s part of the culture at the department that staff “self-censor quite a bit.”
Beckley says DNR does not have a research branch that conducts independent scientific work for publication in peer-reviewed academic journals.
That has contributed to the inability of DNR scientists to speak candidly about their work, he says.
“People think of DNR as this monolithic agency, but there's quite a lot of nuance within,” he says. There’s often tension between the wildlife protection branch and the division that deal with the forest industry.
“There is quite a bit of diversity in terms of what the best thing to do is."
Zelazny says he is sympathetic to his former colleagues still at DNR, and to politicians who are trying to find solutions to the province’s economic situation.